Family Equality Council Condemns HHS Moves to Allow Refusal of Health Care to LGBTQ Patients on Religious Grounds

Family Equality Council documents harm caused to LGBTQ parents and their children when health care is denied.

For Immediate Release — January 18, 2018

NEW YORK — Family Equality Council strongly condemns the Trump Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) decision to allow medical providers to refuse treatment on religious grounds. The decision would allow health care providers to deny medical care for transgender people, for women seeking abortion-related services, and for the LGBTQ community, worsening existing health disparities and exposing already vulnerable populations to even greater discrimination. HHS announced today the creation of a new “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” within the Office of Civil Rights, in addition to a new rule, as reported by Politico, that would further empower HHS to shield health care providers who express religious or moral objections, and punish organizations that don’t allow workers to express such objections.

“Denying LGBTQ people and women medically necessary, potentially life-saving care is extremely dangerous,” said Rev. Stan J. Sloan, CEO of Family Equality Council. “Allowing health and human services providers to refuse services to women or LGBTQ people based on personal, religious beliefs constitutes an attack on our community, our health, and our families.”

“Providing a license to discriminate hurts LGBTQ people and our children,” said Denise Brogan-Kator, Chief Policy Officer, “and it directly contravenes HHS’ own declaration that it is the government’s ‘principal agency for protecting the health of ALL Americans’” (emphasis added).

The harms and health consequences of service denials are well-documented. In the 2015 US Transgender Survey, 33% of respondents who sought health care in the last year experienced mistreatment because of being transgender — and nearly one-quarter (23%) avoided seeking health care when they needed it out of fear of discrimination.

In October 2017, Lambda Legal and Family Equality Council filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in the Masterpiece Cakeshop Case detailing numerous cases of LGBTQ people and their children suffering harm due to discriminatory service denials both by medical professionals and by child service providers such as a day care center. The brief includes an account of a same-sex couple in Tennessee who were turned away by multiple healthcare providers when seeking midwifery care, when trying to enroll in birthing classes, and again two years later when they tried to bring their son to a local childcare center. Another account featured in the brief tells the story of the child of a lesbian couple in Texas who was refused emergency treatment by a pediatric dentist who told the parent that “a child cannot have two mothers” and demanded to see the “real mother” and a birth certificate before treating the child.

Medical and child welfare associations have weighed in time and again, including last November to HHS, that service refusals, including those based on religious beliefs, harm health, children, and families. The American Medical Association told HHS that “the AMA opposes any discrimination based on an individual’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, national origin, or age.” The American Academy of Pediatrics told the agency that “HHS should not provide grants and contracts to entities involved in child welfare services that engage in discrimination against children or families based on sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or faith,” and that “[p]olicies that single-out or discriminate against LGBTQ youth are harmful to social-emotional health and may have lifelong consequences.”

In response to reports of the new rule, Julie Kruse, Federal Policy Advocate, stated “Family Equality Council will remain vigilant in serving as a watchdog and advocating against HHS actions that harm our children and families.”

About Family Equality Council

Family Equality Council connects, supports, and represents the three million parents who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer in this country today and their six million children of all ages. We are changing attitudes and policies to ensure that all families are respected, loved, and celebrated — including families with parents who are LGBTQ. We are a community of parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren and unattached youth that reaches across this country. For almost forty years we have raised our children and raised our voices toward fairness for all families. As we look to the next chapter of our work, we are also focused on LGBTQ youth needing families and the two million LGBTQ adults waiting to foster or adopt in our country.